About Monongalia County

Monongalia County is in the north-central region of West Virginia, located 15 miles north of Fairmont and about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Its northern boundary line is the West Virginia state border with Pennsylvania, also known as the Mason-Dixon Line. The county was formed in 1776 from the West Augusta District of Virginia. It is named in honor of the Monongahela River that flows through the center of it in a northeast direction. The name of the river is Algonquin for “river of sliding banks”.

Population Centers and Geography

Its present territory is 363 square miles with a population of 84,386, and growing. Its county seat and major city is Morgantown (2005 pop. 26,809) which is located in the east central part of the county along the Monongahela River. Other towns and cities are Blacksville (pop. 175); Brookhaven (pop. 4,734); Cassville (pop. 1,586); Cheat Lake (pop. 6,396); Granville (pop. 778); Star City (pop. 1,366); and Westover (pop. 3,941). All are suburbs or in close proximity to Morgantown except for Blacksville which is in the western panhandle of the county.

Interactive Google Map

View Larger Map

The eastern 1/3 of the county is higher in elevation, with the Chestnut Ridge (a westernmost part of the Allegheny Highlands) running north-south, while the remainder of the county to the west is lower plateaus and valleys. The county is drained by the Monongahela River and its tributaries. Chief among these is the Cheat River which flows through the northeastern part of the county, piercing Chestnut Ridge. Interstates 79 and 68 run through the county. Interstate 79 runs north to south through the center of the county, while Interstate 68, entering the state from Maryland, runs east to west through the northeastern part of the county and then veers south to its western terminus where it intersects with Interstate 79 at a junction immediately south of Morgantown. State Route 7 passes through the county east to west, while Route 19 crosses through the county north to south.

The county also has commercial river transportation on the Monongahela River, with the Morgantown Lock and Dam, Hildebrand Lock and Dam, and Opekiska Lock and Dam playing a role in maintaining this navigable river (Point Marion Lock and Dam is downstream of Morgantown, just over the Pennsylvania state line, creating a pool behind it to Morgantown). There is also a north-south rail connection along the west bank of the Monongahela River. Morgantown has a municipal airport named Hart Field.

Parks and Recreation

In the northeast part of the county bordering Preston County, near Cheat Lake, are Coopers Rock State Forest and Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area. In the western part of the county is the Pedlar Run and Little Indian Creek Wildlife Management Area. Other parks and recreation locations in Morgantown include, Dorsey’s Knob, Marilla and Krepp’s city parks, the WVU Arboretum, the WV Botanical Garden, Mason-Dixon Park, and Jack Roberts Park.

Industries

Major employment is in health care and social assistance; retail, professional and other services; accommodation and food service; manufacturing; construction; and mining. Physicians and general medical and surgical hospital employment compose over half of the employees in health care and social assistance. Over one-fourth of health care and social assistance employment is in ambulatory health care services. About two-thirds of social assistance employment is in vocational rehab services. Administration, education, finance, and real estate are major components of employment in the professions and other services. Most educational employment is located in Morgantown at the premier state public school of higher education, West Virginia University. About half of manufacturing employment is in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. About one-fifth of manufacturing employment is in the making of machinery and fabricated metal products. Major agricultural products are livestock and forage with also some notable production of eggs and raising of horses.

Early History

(From E. Lee North’s ‘The 55 West Virginias,’ published by West Virginia University Press.)

Monongalia County is located in the north-central part of the state. It lies on the Appalachian Plateau and has a terrain that is more hilly than mountainous. The land is drained by the Monongahela and Cheat rivers and their tributaries.

The first known white settlement in the county was made by Thomas Decker in 1758 near the junction of present-day Decker’s Creek and the Monongahela River at Morgantown, but the colony was abandoned after an Indian massacre in 1759. Another settlement at Ice’s Ferry along the Cheat River was more successful. It grew into an important shipping and processing center for the iron industry and supported an estimated population of 2,500 at its zenith in the early 1800s.

Monongalia County is the “mother county” of northern West Virginia. The original Monongalia County was larger than the state of Delaware. It was formed in 1776, during the governorship of Patrick Henry, from the Virginia District of West Augusta. The county was named for the Monongahela River, and though spelled differently, both words are taken from the Algonquian Indian tongue and mean ‘river of sliding.’ Twenty counties were later formed from this original county, 17 in West Virginia and three in Pennsylvania. In 1790, there were 1,768 people living in Monongalia County.

The Monongahela River was used from the time of the earliest settlements to float goods down the river to markets on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The first steamboat came to Morgantown in 1826, but navigation of the river by heavy ships was possible only at times of high water. The completion of the lock and dam system in the late 1880s and early 1890s made year-round slack-water navigation of the river a reality.

During the Civil War, the people of Monongalia County were overwhelmingly opposed to secession, and many supported the creation of the new state of West Virginia. Waitman T. Willey (1811-1900) played a large part in the statehood movement and was the first senator from the new state, serving until 1871. Several companies of Union soldiers were raised in the county. Though there were no major battles fought within the confines of the county’s borders, one of the most famous Confederate raids occurred at Morgantown in April of 1863, when 2,000 Confederate troops, led by Generals William Jones and John Imboden, invaded Morgantown to gather supplies and horses.

Monongalia County is underlain by several seams of coal, including the Pittsburgh seam—one of the most valuable coal seams in the world. Coal production began after the Civil War, with two mining establishments producing in the county by 1870. Major commercial mining operations began in the 1880s and reached 11,780,607 tons by 1925. The size of the population of the county in this period reflects this boom, doubling from 24,334 in 1910 to 50,083 in 1930. Glass has also been a major industry in the county, especially in Morgantown.

Morgantown, the county seat, was founded in 1766-68 by Col. Zackquill Morgan on the site of an earlier settlement established in 1758 by Thomas Decker. It became the county seat in 1782 and was named in honor of Morgan and incorporated in 1785.

Morgantown is the site of the main campus of West Virginia University, the state’s largest educational institution. The school is the outgrowth of three earlier academies established in Morgantown—Monongalia Academy (1814), Morgantown Female Academy (1831) and the Woodburn Female Seminary (1858). This property was given to the State of West Virginia in 1867 and, under the provisions of the Morrill Act of 1862, the West Virginia Agricultural College was established. The name was changed to West Virginia University in 1868.